Making a food budget

One of the most challenging parts of setting a budget for myself was figuring out my food budget.  In fact, this was one of my first tasks!  Your food costs – what you eat, where you shop, even how often you shop – can really make or break your budget.  For example, buy an orange everyday at the corner store or 7-11 costs $1-$1.50.  In contrast, I bought three oranges yesterday at the market for $1!  But before you can figure that out, you need to figure out the details of your food habits.

How much did I eat?!

At the time, I had no idea how much money I spent on food.  I knew that if I shopped at Superstore, it would be cheaper than if I shopped at Safeway;  I knew that I didn’t need much milk but I needed to account for rice; etc.  It was all very vague, and it didn’t help me figure out how much money I actually spent.

I decided to write down everything I would need in a month, along with the approximate prices, to get a better idea of my potential food budget.  Here, I hit a wall again – How do I estimate a monthly food budget, when I don’t buy everything in monthly cycles?  When I was first making this budget, I lived alone.  I could hardly finish a tray of ground beef in a month, much less a whole bag of rice!  So, I decided to make a three month food table, and divide my larger food costs over three months to figure out how much I would need spend on average in order to have all the necessities.

Here’s what it looked like in the end:

Month 1 Month 2 Month 3
Meats 

(= $15/month)

Beef – assorted cuts ($11) 

(10-12 servings)

2 chickens ($15 for a 2-pack) 

(10 x 2 servings)

Pork, fish, other meats ($11) 

(average, 10-15 servings)

Eggs ($4) Eggs ($4)
Fruit and veggies 

(= $25/month)

Assorted $25 (at ~$6 per week) Assorted $25 (at ~$6 per week) Assorted $25 (at ~$6 per week)
Dairy 

(= $17/month)

Milk ($2) Milk ($2) Milk ($2)
Cheese ($5) 

(450g)

Cheese ($5) 

(450g)

Cheese ($5) 

(450g)

Yogurt ($10) 

(12-15 servings)

Yogurt ($10) 

(12-15 servings)

Yogurt ($10) 

(12-15 servings)

Grain 

(= variable costs)

Bread ($3) Bread ($3) Bread ($3)
Rice ($30) 

(40lb sack, good for 3 months)

Cereal ($5) Pasta ($10)
Other 

(= variable costs)

$10 miscellaneous – spices, sauces, herbs, etc. $35 miscellaneous – canned or dry goods $20 miscellaneous – necessities: flour, oil, baking powder, corn starch, etc.
Total: $100 $100 $100

A few key things to note:

  • I don’t consume a lot of milk, bread or cereal.  I’m Asian!  But, you could easily cut out the $30 sack of rice and re-allocate towards milk, breads and cereals.
  • You’re not going to have an even distribution of all the necessities to start.  The key is to build up over time such that you run out of items in regular, predictable cycles.  Preferably cycles which coincide with store sales!
  • This budget relies a lot of buying in bulk, cutting up your own meat, and making use of your freezer, which I discuss in another post.

So there you have it – my basic food budget for when I lived on my own.  Prices fluctuate depending on sales and such, of course.  I can tell you right away that most of the prices I listed were higher than what I pay regularly.  The important thing to note is that you don’t have to survive on rice and beans.  But you do have to learn how to buy, store and cook food.

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